There has been a recent documentary “Shelter Dogs” with Sue Sternberg on HBO. By all accounts is it graphic, disturbing and many online communities even now are calling for her proverbial head. Let this writer state that she has NOT seen this documentary since cable was one of the first things to go when it came to pruning the money tree.
This is not an article about that show. This comes from my own years of experience rescuing animals. Seeing Sue Sternberg’s image on facebook, reading of her methods, looking at the site made me think of all the animals I have worked with…. dogs, cats, turtles, birds.. all magnificent beast of the animal kingdom. Heck- since I too am an animal I have also rescued myself right alongside my very unique friends. As a professional pet sitter I come across different personalities within each animal every day.
So let’s take a look at what I am talking about, what I have to say about animal “shelters” and the definition of “shelter” which is a basic right for most living creatures. There are extenuating circumstances naturally- but that is a different article.
This is quite apart from animal ownership- you know, where they take all your time and all your sofa space and of course all the bed space too lest we forget! I’m talking volunteering at shelters, working with recovering shelter dogs and cats. I’m talking fostering and falling in love with two tiny 5 day old puppies, each as different as night and day, two sisters found under a bush in the middle of a particularly brutal Las Vegas summer 2010. I’m talking about working with two formerly abused Jack Russel terriers with brain damage as a result and a caretaker that needed help themselves.
The definition of *shelter* is as follows per a free online dictionary..
shelter• er n.shelter• less adj.Synonyms: shelter, cover, retreat, refuge, asylum, sanctuary
These nouns refer to places affording protection, as from danger, or to the state of being protected. Shelter usually implies a covered or enclosed area that protects temporarily, as from injury or attack: built a shelter out of pine and hemlock boughs.
Cover suggests something that conceals: traveled under cover of darkness.
Retreat applies chiefly to a secluded place to which one retires for meditation, peace, or privacy: a rural cabin that served as a weekend retreat.
Refuge suggests a place of escape from pursuit or from difficulties that beset one: “The great advantage of a hotel is that it’s a refuge from home life” (George Bernard Shaw).
Asylum adds to refuge the idea of legal protection or of immunity from arrest: “O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind” (Thomas Paine).
Sanctuary denotes a sacred or inviolable place of refuge: political refugees finding sanctuary in a monastery
So a shelter is supposed to provide, if briefly, some type of sanctuary be it for a monk, a monkey, a Munchkin kitty or a Maltese. Or even a political refugee but that would open a whole other can of worms.
My question is- and my own answer too- do shelters in *our* country, in the United States of America do enough to ensure animals in their care are treated with every form of respect there is? I know in my state of Nevada there have been many outcries about one high kill shelter…and for every outcry someone else says, “good job”..so what, if any, criteria would you say is paramount for a shelter to extend to their animal guests? In any other place of “shelter” an open arm is always extended..a hug, a warm meal and a safe place to lay one’s head that is comfortable and clean and most importantly going to bed secure in the knowledge that come morning you will not be dragged out of your bed at 6 am if not earlier to be taken to your death!
In this country we need to change how these shelters are appropriated. What happens to an animal when they are taken in. What would you do if you had been transported willy-nilly from everything you knew, dumped at a place where others like you were screaming and shoved in a cage sometimes with no bedding just a bucket of water…then within 24 hours be subjected to “food aggression” testing by someone giving you a delicious meal and then prodding you with a fake hand to see how you would react. Heck I get mad if somebody comes into my kitchen and stirs my pot much less try to reach a hand into my plate and I am supposedly a thinking rational human being! Imagine being so scared and with no way to express yourself because they don’t WANT to understand your fear- that would make them, the people around you, the one prodding you to eat/not eat, well if they really understood your fear they would not be able to truly face what they were doing and by not facing their own fears it makes them feel powerful.
From years of working with animals- from having a natural gift to be among them from a very young age- I will tell you that animals feel every bit as much as we do- if not more because unlike most humans, animals are not afraid to feel. It is part of what makes them so endearing and so vulnerable at the same time. It is crucial for our well being as a people that we begin, or let me say continue, since there are many among us who do tremendous work for our animal friends- to have true compassion and respect for species other than our own “human” race. In shelters- and there are some wonderful animal shelters out there but some are not so great- take the time to make the animal feel as safe as he/she can before evaluating them..keep the cats in larger cages – some cats are kept in wire cages barely two inches larger than their body- who can feel safe in that enclosure? Provide blankets or better yet like some shelters do- provide the raised beds so that the animal can at least have the dignity of not sleeping in his/her own urine! Prisoners on death row are treated better!
If the animal is treated with respect at least, they will be more inclined to go to a calmer state of being…pipe soft music a la Sarah Brightman throughout the facility- I have found that singing is a great way to get an animal to relax. And imagine this- patience works too! So then instead of killing just for killing’s sake- something that the human race seem to have an inordinate penchant for doing- lives might be saved. Human and animal alike- for there is no more creature more loving and more loyal who has been shown he or she is worth something to someone.
It will be by saving the animals that our own humanity shall be restored.